The One Book, One Chicago program is ten years old this autumn. Chicago Public Library (CPL) Commissioner Mary Dempsey announced The Adventures of Augie March by Nobel laureate Saul Bellow (1915-2005) would be the 21st One Book, One Chicago selection at the Harold Washington Library Center Ruth Lednicer, Director of the CPL’s Marketing & Press Office, stated in a press release dated August 17, 2011. Originally published in 1953, the version of The Adventures of Augie March being offered throughout the Chicago Public Library System was published in 2006 by Penguin Books with an introduction by the polemical Anglo-American journalist and author Christopher Hitchens.
“Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March is a quintessential Chicago novel and an excellent choice for the One Book, One Chicago program which for 10 years has brought together families, neighborhoods and our entire city around reading,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “This fall, I encourage all Chicagoans to pick up a copy of The Adventures of Augie March and explore the seedier side of early 20th century Chicago.”
In an open letter to the city, Mayor Emanuel writes, “As Mayor and on behalf of the City of Chicago, I encourage you to celebrate a decade of the award-winning One Book, One Chicago program by taking part in its 10th anniversary celebration this fall. In September and October, we will acknowledge this landmark and come together around the great Chicago novel The Adventures of Augie March by Nobel Prize-winning author Saul Bellow.”
The One Book, One Chicago program promotes a “culture of reading” in the city. The CPL wants readers to know 2011 Fall edition of One Book, One Chicago is made possible by the support of the Chicago Public Library Foundation, Allstate, and BMO Harris Bank. Program Partners include DePaul University, Stop Smiling Books, Victory Gardens Theater, Lookingglass Theatre, Chicago Tribune, WBEZ-91.5 FM, Park Hyatt Chicago, the City of Chicago Office of Tourism/Culture and the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events.
In 1998, under the auspices of the Library of Congress, the Seattle Public Library’s Washington Center for the Book initiated the One Book, One Community (OBOC) projects. The librarian who conceived of project If All Seattle Read The Same Book, Nancy Pearl is something of a celebrity and has even inspired a “librarian action figure” (http://www.mcphee.com/laf/).
In the fall of 2001, Mayor Richard M. Daley started One Book, One Chicago with To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. As Ms. Lednicer phrased it, he invited “Chicagoans to read the same book at the same time and discuss a great piece of literature with friends and neighbors. Since its inception, the program has offered 20 book selections to Chicago readers, as well as hundreds of relevant programs, tours and discussions.”
Over 6,500 library patrons borrowed copies of To Kill a Mockingbird, including the circulation of 350 foreign-language copies. The success of this initiative led to the adoption of To Kill a Mockingbird by over 50 One Book, One City programs across the country, and it has remained the most popular book. By 2007, the Library of Congress listed 404 of these One Book, One City (sometimes called One City, One Book) programs.
The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has launched a similar program, The Big Read, but it is centrally controlled, whereas each OBOC committee selects books on its own city. The NEA and the Institute of Museum & Library Services established The Big Read program in cooperation with Arts Midwest in reaction to the 2004 NEA report Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America. The NEA has thus far funded more than 875 Big Read programs.
To celebrate the selection of the 10th book in the One Book, One Chicago program, and the 5th anniversary of the program, the Chicago Public Library mounted an exhibition, One Book, Many Interpretations, which ran from September 30, 2006 to April 15, 2007. Nearly 50 bookbinders and artists from around the world contributed to the exhibition.
This novel was on TIME’s List of 100 Best Novels, Ms. Lednicer states in her press release,“The Adventures of Augie March centers on the life and times of a young man who grows up in Chicago during the Great Depression along with his two brothers and mother. Through his experiences with neighbors, friends, lovers, jobs and travels, we discover how his life’s journey is shaped by his escapades and the city around him.”
“Saul Bellow portrays the Chicago he knew through the eyes of Augie March—from the pool halls to the welfare lines, the downtown movie houses to the quiet parks,” explains Library Commissioner Mary A. Dempsey. “Augie moves from job to job, mentor to mentor, poor to wealthy and back again, meeting a vast array of unique and often hilarious characters. Perhaps most remarkable about this novel, however, is Bellow’s rich language.”
Mayor Emanuel writes, “Since its launch in fall 2001, One Book, One Chicago has engaged and challenged readers in Chicago with more than 20 book selections, hundreds of programs and discussions, and countless memorable encounters among readers. Twice a year, we see our fellow Chicagoans reading the same book on buses or trains, in parks or cafes, on campuses and in libraries. Lectures, author appearances, performances and more bring people together to immerse themselves in a great book, and to learn more about themselves and each other in the process.”
The twenty previous One Book, One Chicago selections have been To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (born in 1926), Night by Elie Wiesel (born in 1928), My Ántonia by Willa Cather (1873-1947), A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965), The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien (born in 1946), The Coast of Chicago by Stuart Dybek (born in 1942), In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez (born in 1950), The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark (1901-1971), Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1775-1817), One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008), Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (born in 1967), Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin (1924-1987), The Crucible by Arthur Miller (1915-2005), The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler (1888-1959), The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe (born in 1931), The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (born in 1954), The Plan of Chicago: Daniel Burnham and the Remaking of the American City by Carl Smith, Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín (born in 1955), A Mercy by Toni Morrison (born in 1931), and Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (born in 1960). Mayor Emanuel asks, “What better way to celebrate this program, itself such a testament to Chicago’s dedication to reading and learning, than to read such an iconic Chicago book? Saul Bellow is a Chicago legend, and in Augie March he created a true son of Chicago. Along with his two brothers, Augie is raised by his mother in the 1920s and ’30s; but he is shaped just as much by the movement and struggles of the city around him. He travels between jobs, mentors, neighborhoods and friends, and throughout it all we see him, and his city, so clearly.”
The CPL encourages lifelong learning, according to Ms. Lednicer, “by welcoming all people and offering equal access to information, entertainment and knowledge through materials, programs and cutting-edge technology.” It is a system comprised of the Harold Washington Library Center, two regional libraries, and over seventy neighborhood branch libraries.
Ms. Lednicer writes, “All locations provide free access to a rich collection of books, DVDs, audio books and music; the Internet and WiFi; newspapers and magazines; sophisticated research databases, many of which can be accessed from a home or office computer. Each location continues to serve as a cultural center, presenting the highest quality author discussions, exhibits and programs for children, teens and adults. The Harold Washington Library Center, Carter G. Woodson Regional Library and Conrad Sulzer Regional Library are open 7 days a week, the branch libraries are open 6 days a week and patrons can access all of the Library’s collections online 24 hours a day. For more information, please visit the website at chicagopubliclibrary.orgor call the Chicago Public Library Press Office at (312) 747-4050.”